$9.4B budget clears New Mexico House floor
SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico lawmakers spent hours picking apart the proposed state budget on the House floor Thursday afternoon.
Many state agencies could get a significant funding boost, and the $6.4 billion proposal cleared the House floor with bipartisan support.
State Rep. Nathan Small, who represents Doña Ana County, spearheaded this year’s budget process for the first time. It’s clear his committee was focused on using the state’s historic revenue surplus to address current problems.
“We have a unique opportunity to take that now money, make it future money,” said Small, chair of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.
Republican lawmakers are critical of the nearly 12% increase in spending from last year’s budget, but committee members believe the potential impacts are worth it.
Education and health care are the big players in the proposed budget. There’s an 8% increase in funding for public education, largely to cover the cost of extended learning time and a 5% raise for teachers.
The budget also includes a 69% increase in funding for the new Early Childhood Education Department.
“We want to make New Mexico one of the best places to grow up in this entire country, regardless of background, economic status, location or anything else,” said Rep. Joy Garratt.
Lawmakers are also proposing a nearly $220 million increase in Medicaid funding and an increase in rate reimbursements to keep and recruit health care providers. There’s also millions set aside for rural hospitals and clinics.
“We want to make sure that every person in our state has access to a doctor when they need one, and access to a nurse to help them along,” said Rep. Pamelya Herndon.
There is more than $78 million set aside for community safety, including $32 million to retain and recruit law enforcement officers over several years – as well as pay raises for state police officers, judges, and other law enforcement workers.
“Whether it’s by deterring crime on the streets, or making sure every law enforcement agency or court has the administrative capacity to handle their workloads,” said Rep. Meredith Dixon. “This budget will help make communities safer.”
There’s $1.5 billion set aside for transportation projects, including $230 million for state and local roads alone.
Climate and conservation efforts could receive more than $330 million, with almost a third of that going to the newly-proposed Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund.
“We have a responsibility to our future generations to do what we can to address the impacts of climate change today,” said Rep. Debra Sariñana.
The proposed budget also includes millions for housing projects, local economic development, and tourism.
Despite the historic level of spending, the proposed budget is also saving money. Rep. Small highlighted that the proposal would maintain a 30% reserve, which he said would be as strong as it has ever been.
COMPARISON TO GOVERNOR’S BUDGET
There were some big changes between the governor’s request and the proposed budget. Her office raised concerns about lawmakers potentially underfunding the Opportunity Scholarship.
The governor wanted $157 million to maintain the state’s free college program. However, the proposed budget only includes $120 million for it. Rep. Small said that’s because the Higher Education Department lowered the estimated cost, and budgeting strategies revealed a $50 million gap that they lowered.
HEALTH INSURANCE FOR TEACHERS
Another spending point involves the governor’s plan to cover health insurance premiums for New Mexico teachers. The committee set aside more than $33 million to cover that initiative, but it’s important to note the actual bill creating that program still has to clear House and Senate floor votes.
REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH CARE CLINIC
The governor also asked for $10 million to build a reproductive health clinic in southern New Mexico.
A spokesperson with the House Speaker’s office confirmed Friday the proposed $10 million for a reproductive health center in southern New Mexico is one of the governor’s capital outlay requests. Therefore, it is not included in HB 2, which outlines budget appropriations.
Track House Bill 2 during the legislative session.